“Se me perguntam o valor da Capoeira // inestimável não tem como descrever // mais preciosa do que o ouro e diamante // ar que eu respiro pra poder sobre viver…”
“If you ask me how much capoeira is worth // there is no way to describe its pricelessness // it is more precious than gold or diamonds // and the air I breath to live…”
(From ‘Ser Capoeira é Bom Demais’ — a traditional capoeira song)
Open the front gate of the association and be greeted with a hearty ‘Salve!‘ — a customary capoeira greeting that reads more like a salute than a pleasantry. Throw your Havaianas to the side and start your warm-up stretches with Mari, a curly-haired classmate whose warmth has made you feel at home from the very start. Experiment with the moves you learnt in the previous class — armadas, meia luas, and the like — until the round and jovial Professor Del, who has spent the past ten minutes grinning as the kids in the previous class laughed uncontrollably at his tricks and games, calls the adults to the floor to begin the session.
“Bora!”, or “come on!”, is the greeting latecomers receive as they stroll casually into the association (after all, to be late in Brazil is to not show up at all). The whole class gingas together in unison, occasionally throwing in a kick or performing an esquiva (a dodge). On cardio days, the class does what feels like an endless series of jumping jacks and walking squats; yet, these exercises pale in comparison to the barefooted laps the class was made to run one day around the perimeter of Lower Candeal, during which you bruised the soles of your feet on sharp asphalt and suffered for days.
Treino duro — tough training — is what they call it. Without treino duro, you can’t do proper capoeira. You don’t go beyond your comfort zone. You don’t test your character, your endurance and your drive: the key components that characterize much of capoeira’s tumultuous history, from the days African slaves performed the art as a form of resistance to their Portuguese oppressors, to the days — not so very long ago — capoeira was banned from practice, and finally to the present, a time in which capoeira is respected all across the world.
Rhythm unquestionably offers yet another challenge. What with music — the various folkloric songs and percussion instruments such as the berimbau, the pandeiro, etc —being a fundamental tenet of capoeira, it is expected you sing, or at least clap, along with the group. Lyrics are always a challenge: when the acoustics of the room renders a chorus of voices basically indistinguishable, let alone understandable, even familiar words are blurred around the edges. Marlon’s favourite song, Sereno Cai, is so indecipherable you spout literal na-na-nas whenever it begins. You open your mouth wide in the illusion of song and hope your clapping will make up for your linguistic what-have-you, although at times the jogo — the performance of capoeira in the center of the roda, or circle — is so alluring and poetic and beautiful your hands inadvertently fall out of beat.
Indeed, there are struggles. Being a foreigner, a woman, and a complete beginner exacerbates the feeling you don’t belong. When the other students in the class converse in rapid-fire Portuguese about events or people you don’t know, you stand aside, by yourself, and wish you weren’t so conspicuous. It is rare for you to enter the roda more than two or three times a session because the prospect of entering it is terrifying: when you have to deliberately and confidently gesture to stop the ongoing jogo to declare your intention to join in, the compounded anxiety of coming off as culturally unaware, being ‘overbearing’ or stylistically inadequate is great enough that you find yourself waiting for someone to invite you in instead. When women are made to do ‘female push-ups’ irregardless of athletic ability, or you feel like you just can’t relate to the vast cultural and racial history behind capoeira, it’s easy to leave class leaving disheartened.
Growth, however, is inevitable. Despite the setbacks, capoeira helps you grow in ways you never anticipated. On the surface level, you now know you are capable of performing various acrobatic movements without breaking a collarbone. Deeper within, you find consolation and focus in the motions that capoeira entails, in its intricate mix of music and fighting and dancing; on days when your mind is scattered and you wish to escape what you know, capoeira leaves you with a wider perspective of what matters to you.
And of course — one cannot forget the relationships made both in and out of the roda. There is something wonderful in the way you keep eye contact with your fellow capoeiristas during a particularly heated jogo, and the way you shake hands before and after each round. Individually, you can’t help but notice individual quirks and qualities that, over time, will become a source of saudades: the way Marlon always sings slightly out of tune, Del’s childlike enthusiasm, Pattoo’s biceps, Katia’s eyes, Mari’s game face, Arthur’s backflips, and all the little things in between.
Done you may be with Capoeira Raízes do Dendê, but done you are not with capoeira. Looking ahead, you see yourself playing, dancing, singing, and practicing capoeira in the months — and maybe years — ahead, and perhaps one day returning to where it all began: the association nestled in the heart of beautiful, beautiful Candeal.
At the end of it all, all there is to say is obrigada. Obrigada, capoeira. Obrigada pela felicidade, pela força, pela inspiração. Obrigada pelas aulas duras que me fortaleceram tanto. Obrigada pela confiança em minha capacidade física e psicológica, e obrigada pelas relacionamentos que me trouxe. There is nothing more you can say. Words, you have learnt, aren’t necessarily the only vehicle to express poetic things.